NZ Lifestyle Block - - A Country Life - Photo: Claus Ableiter Photo: John Tann

I AL­WAYS TRY to live by the motto “learn some­thing new ev­ery day” and it al­ways comes true when I get to spend a day out with my col­league Matthew. Matthew is a plant sci­en­tist in my team and is my go-to weed and agri-chem­i­cal ex­pert.

When Matthew and I spent a cou­ple of weeks train­ing staff to­gether re­cently, we would oc­ca­sion­ally ab­scond af­ter­wards to hunt for hid­den ar­eas of new and ex­cit­ing weeds. We found a cou­ple of real doozies – I’ll share them with you in up­com­ing col­umns.

This col­umn is about the fi­nal of the ‘dan­de­lion’ weeds. Hawkbit ( Leontodon tarax­a­coides) is a com­mon peren­nial weed found in most parts of New Zealand. It’s a na­tive of Europe and North Africa but it made its way to New Zealand in the early days of set­tle­ment, pre­sum­ably as a con­tam­i­nant of pas­ture seed. As with the other dan­de­lion look-alikes it’s a mem­ber of the daisy ( Aster­aceae) fam­ily, along with this­tles, let­tuce, ar­ti­chokes and, of course, daisies.

I al­ways like to throw in a cou­ple of in­ter­est­ing facts about a weed here, but I’ll ad­mit it was a lit­tle tricky to find any­thing for hawkbit. The fam­ily name Leontodon comes from the Greek word ‘lion’s tooth’ and refers to the jagged leaves. In me­dieval times it was thought that hawks nib­bled on plants like this to gain bet­ter eye­sight, which is why we have hawkbit, hawks­beard and hawk­weed, but I’m not sure about the ve­rac­ity of that last fact.

As I’ve been say­ing for the past few is­sues, it can be tricky to dis­tin­guish these weeds from each other. They all ger­mi­nate and then form a ground-hug­ging rosette of leaves that all ap­pear very sim­i­lar. You can start to tell them apart at this stage - hawkbit and cat­sear pro­duce a num­ber of fine hairs on the leaf while hawks­beard and dan­de­lion are hair­less. Hawkbit leaves are nar­rower than cat­sear and have quite dis­tinct, shal­low lobes.

In spring, hawkbit pro­duces its flow­er­ing stem and then it be­comes eas­ier to iden­tify. It pro­duces a sin­gle flow­er­ing stem (un­like cat­sear and hawks­beard which are branched) and the stem is thin and wiry, quite un­like the sin­gle, fleshy and hol­low flow­er­ing stem of dan­de­lion.

How to con­trol it

Hawkbit is a peren­nial weed that can dump a large num­ber of wind-dis­persed seeds very quickly each year so con­trol­ling it can be a bit of a mixed bag as it re­ally depends on where you find it.

If you have it in pas­ture then the best method of con­trol is main­tain­ing a dense pas­ture sward – keep your pas­ture plants well fer­tilised and thick and that way there is nowhere for the weed to strike and estab­lish.

If it is in a lawn or it has al­ready in­vaded a pas­ture then chem­i­cal con­trol is the only real op­tion. Thank­fully it is eas­ier to con­trol than oth­ers in this group as it doesn’t have quite the same long tap root of dan­de­lion to help it re­cover from spray­ing. 2,4 D, MCPA, Di­camba and Ver­sa­til are all good op­tions but re­mem­ber to read the la­bel care­fully and be aware that these chem­i­cals may be par­tic­u­larly harm­ful to ben­e­fi­cial plants like clover.

hall­ways, and ev­ery room fac­ing north to ben­e­fit from the win­ter sun.

Place­ment of win­dows was also im­por­tant be­cause the cou­ple had a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive to most other home­own­ers.

“We put a higher pri­or­ity on fac­ing the sun rather than the views.”

They chose cob for the build­ing’s struc­ture, some­thing that is still an un­usual choice in NZ.

“The earth walls are fun­da­men­tally ther­mal mass, like oven bricks,” says Phill. “They soak up the sun dur­ing win­ter days and re­lease it at night, rather like a night stor­age heater. Yet on a hot day in sum­mer they keep the house cool.”

The clay on site that would make it dif­fi­cult to cre­ate their (now) thriv­ing or­ganic gar­den, com­plete with veg­etable beds, soft fruit cage and fruit trees, proved a bonus when they de­cided to build a cob house. Sand and clay were both sourced on their prop­erty and mixed with straw, mean­ing they didn’t re­quire ce­ment. A trac­tor with ro­tary hoe was used to turn the mix­ture as it was too hard to mix by hand.

The floor had to be con­crete to sup­port the build­ing (cob is not per­mit­ted as a foun­da­tion). In the liv­ing room, 40mm-thick adobe tiles sit on top of the con­crete.

The cou­ple pre­ferred to avoid chem­i­cals in the build­ing process. This was a chal­lenge, even when you have a pine for­est

out how to do all the join­ery for the win­dows, doors and fin­ish­ings, and built the cedar win­dows and the macro­carpa frames they sit in. He learned most of it as he went along but says he did ask for help or ad­vice when he was un­sure.

Ker­ryn helped with all as­pects of the prepa­ra­tion and build­ing work too. She then turned her craft­ing skills to the walls, com­plet­ing her first mo­saic in the kitchen, a beau­ti­ful de­sign that runs the length of one wall, some­thing she says was a lot of fun.

The back walls of the house are cut into a hill­side which al­lows for the ground to act as a form of in­su­la­tion. Their huge pantry is built against this back wall mak­ing it just like a cel­lar, per­fect for stor­ing food and pre­serves.

“Even with­out heat­ing, the house is a con­stant 15°C in win­ter,” says Phill. “You don’t get those day/night time tem­per­a­ture fluc­tu­a­tions com­mon in other houses.”

Five years after they started, they moved in. The kitchen, liv­ing room, bath­room and com­post­ing toi­let were all done, leav­ing the up­per level bed­rooms un­fin­ished. They stuck firmly to their plan to only move in once the lower level was com­pletely fin­ished, and now they’re in a race to have the bed­rooms ready for this sum­mer’s guests.

Liv­ing so close to Te Waiko­rop­upu Springs – one of the big­gest at­trac­tions for tourists to Golden Bay is just min­utes from their home – is cer­tainly a bonus. They plan to call their ac­com­mo­da­tion Sanc­tu­ary Springs, and it def­i­nitely is.

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